I've made no secret of both my complete lack of ability in playing fighting games, and my utter, unabashed love for watching the genre played by its top stars. This back and forth truly comes to a head with Capcom's signature series, Street Fighter. I threw my first fireball with Street Fighter II, and have followed the series pretty faithfully for a casual. After the 9 year hiatus Capcom took before the release of Street Fighter IV, they lost me a bit with they near constant need to change versions, mirroring their history of updating games by adding flashy prefixes like ULTRA, SUPER, and TECHNICALLY NEW.
They aimed to change that with Street Fighter V, their latest iteration of fighting games reigning king, and the first aimed to function more like a platform then a perpetual update machine. Unfortunately, the release felt light in comparison to past outings, and only through an update does the game approach something worth the money to anyone other then the most strident of fans or ardent professionals.
With it's history spanning more then 20 years, so much of Street Fighter has entered the common lexicon that there's no real need to take a deep dive into any of the mechanics that carry over between versions. Ryu throws a fireball, and is more then willing to counter any jump in with a Dragon Punch, yelling his signature “Shroyuken” while it happens. Chun-Li still kicks, Dhlasim stretches, and Vega poses while people stare at the claw on his left hand. Some roster favorites are missing or have yet to be introduced as DLC, like the sumo wrestler E. Honda, or the boxer Balrog, but the remaining world warriors are all standouts from both Street Fighter III and IV.
Pushing past the familiar, the most immediate change in Street Fighter V comes in the form of V-Skills, which replace the Ultra bar as the resource that builds as you get hit. Skills come in three forms: a main skill which can be used freely, a reversal which takes up one section of the V-Trigger bar, and the V-Trigger itself, which comes out as either a generalized power increase to the character for a limited amount of time or a single action with a variable result. For example, Ryu's V-Trigger can be activated to amp up Ryu's fireballs for about 10 seconds, while someone like Nash has a one use teleport that can be used to get in front of, above, or even behind an opponent.
The payoff of a full gauge is often less overtly impressive then SFIV's old Ultra system, but the results can often lead to some dramatic shifts momentum, with most V-Trigger activations happening as combo extenders. The system works well, and in practice, its easy enough to get the basics down, but the onus of discovery falls completely on the player. Before the big March patch, there was no way to discover the different uses outside of actual combat. Saying something like that in regards to a fighting game sounds funny, but I could easily see someone picking this up who has had no exposure to the game outside of name recognition, getting wrecked their first few times online because the had no clue just how the system worked.
I made the point of saying pre-March patch because that update brought with it the combo challenge system that was present in SFIV when it launched. While nothing even close to the genre defining tutorial present in Skullgirls, the challenge system runs you through combos with both a video showing you what they look like, and then a set of button prompts that light up as you complete them. It's not perfect, especially when it comes to the speed that some of the prompts have to be entered, but its a fair start and miles ahead of the “this is how you move sideways” tutorial that shipped with the game.
Also missing from the shipped product, though not as detrimental as the utter lack of teaching tools, is a story/arcade mode. Ok, maybe missing isn't the right word, but the story that is present, a bunch of static animated scenes with stilted dialog broken up by anywhere between 2-4 fights set to a difficulty lower then easy, lower then beginner, hell, low enough that a 6 month old baby was video taped beating it, isn't worth the time invested in putting it together. A more robust mode has been promised, but as it's yet to have been delivered, I can only criticize what is present, which as previously stated, is a dumpster fire.
Making a successful return is Survival mode, where your chosen fighter has to survive, no surprise, a series of one round fights. Difficulty determines the number of fights you have to get through, with Easy coming in at a very doable 10, while Extreme drops you into the nightmare scenario of having to get through 100 battles. Locked behind the survival modes are the various color changes available for the character costumes, which means if you want the ability to customize, you are going to have to put in the time. Different costumes themselves are available from the newly added in game store, something else that was missing from launch, and purchasable using Fight Money, a currency earned by participating in matches online and making your way through the “story.” New background areas and characters are also supposed to be available through the in game store, but those options won't be available until the ability to purchase with real money is added.
Speaking of background areas, the look of the various locations where you can fight is pretty good. There's some muddyness in some of the textures, but they all serve to help the characters really pop out and own the space that they are in. There are natural standouts that get played again and again, like the Master's Lair, a fiery volcano fortress complete with statues of Street Fighter's main baddies, The Dictator M. Bison and his crew of Shadowloo flunkies, as well as some that are easily forgotten, like the slums of India where Dhalsim performs his amazing yoga feats. That one is easily the worst, as the textures of both the background and the people in it look as muddy and muted as the place suggests. Sure, you could argue that the scene captures a slums true essence, but if you can make a dirty back alley in the middle of Shanghai look good, there's no reason you can't do the same for an Indian slum.
The fighters themselves look amazing. The ink motif started in SFIV is built upon and improved by adding color, making special moves punched up by the EX meter explode in rainbow streaks. Certain fighters, like R. Mika, explode with color as they slam their opponents, while others like Laura fling rainbow paint and sparks as hurtle through the air, their bodies flowing in a glorious dance of electric lights and ridiculous hues. There's something to be said about some of the outfits choices, especially among the female characters. R. Mika looks like she is one small movement away from simply coming all undone, and Laura is moving in that same direction, especially in her alternate outfit which features a shirt that's not quite able to cover her ample bosom.
But beyond that, it's, well, Street Fighter. It's fun throwing fireballs or grab fighters and spin them in the air, watching their bodies slam down on to the concrete only to get back up and do it again. Sure, my online time mostly consists of casual matches where I try and keep up, but when I get tired of that, I dip into one of the other modes, now that there are other modes, and chip away at those for a bit. It's not something that I do every day, and it's not anything I would ever plan to compete with, but it makes me happy to know that it's there.
While I could not have recommended it to any but the hardcore fighting game community when it released, it's now complete enough that I don't have qualms about getting into it now. I'm still having fun with the game, even though most of my time is spent trying to complete survival runs and challenges rather then feed people rating boots online. I wish it would have been more complete at launch, but if you fill one hand with wishes and the other with wins, I'm... honestly not quite sure which will fill up first.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!